I have opened five businesses. Every time I had to get permission from City Hall (aka a business license). When I opened Madison+Main, the City of Richmond was very helpful. When I bought the Texas Inn restaurants four years ago, the City of Lynchburg was asking us “How can we help you?” My most recent endeavor, opening a third location of the Texas Inn in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has been a struggle.
You know the old saying “You can’t fight City Hall?” If you don’t, here’s the meaning:
“You can’t fight city hall” means that an individual cannot combat bureaucracy or a bureaucratic system and its rules. The expression you can’t fight city hall uses the term city hall to mean a bureaucratic institution.” – Grammarist
I have a great team. They’ve worked extra to help me in Harrisonburg. Our Manager Renea is a rock star. She’s learned the system, hired some great staff, and set everything up. Our vendors have supplied us with food and dry goods. My daughter Hattie did an amazing job sourcing the equipment and getting it delivered, especially with post-pandemic manufacturing and logistics log jams. The plumber, the HVAC company, the painters, and the sign company all delivered on time. Our contractor did an AMAZING job and the building is completely transformed, but….
We didn’t open as planned on Monday. Or Tuesday. Neither Wednesday nor Thursday. As I write this edition of the Weekly Report, we are still waiting on “someone” from the City of Harrisonburg. Or should I say “someones?”
The list is almost too long to print:
- Public Works Traffic Department required a permit to paint our store. Apparently, two guys on a ladder require a permit and one guy on a ladder does not. #TheMoreYouKnow
- Harrisonburg PD hassles delivery drivers stopping to drop off stuff, from FedEx to US Foods.
- The city’s building inspector’s list of demands changes day by day and ranges from “really?” to the ridiculous.
- The fire marshal actually called me on the phone last week and started yelling at me. I was stunned.
- Public Works Stormwater crew only works Monday through Thursday, so they didn’t fix the drainage pipe and we were without running water for five-and-a-half days.
- To top it all off, the city is sending us a bill to repair their pipe under their sidewalk using their crew.
Despite our best efforts, and an A+ from the health inspector, we cannot open….yet. It pains me to turn away customer after customer. It also makes me physically ill that I will have to throw away $5,000 worth of food this weekend. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the city’s trash and recycling folks will probably bark at us again because our trash cans are too full.
Tomorrow, 5,000 JMU freshmen, led by President Jonathan Alger, will walk downtown passing by our restaurant. We won’t be able to serve them, unless “someone” decides to help us. On the bright side, I can hand the JMU kids free branded koozies and to-go menus, courtesy of Madison+Main.
People in Harrisonburg are friendly. To be clear, I am fighting with City Hall, not the people of the “Friendly City.” The battle is frustrating and tedious and costly, but I am in it to win it. Hopefully next week, I’ll have better news to report on our progress.
Whoever said, “You can’t fight city hall,” never met me.